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Cablegate: Iran: Hmg Briefs On Irig Jamming of Bbc, Voa

VZCZCXYZ0006
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHLO #0257 0351303
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
O 041303Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4859
INFO RUCNIRA/IRAN COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE

S E C R E T LONDON 000257

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR BRIANNE MARWAHA, NEA/IR AND STEVEN LETT, EEB

EO 12958 DECL: 02/02/2020
TAGS PREL, PGOV, ETTC, ECPS, TSPA, IR, UK, FR
SUBJECT: IRAN: HMG BRIEFS ON IRIG JAMMING OF BBC, VOA
BROADCASTS; REQUESTS LOBBYING ASSISTANCE
REF: MURRAY/MARWAHA E-MAILS 02/02/2010

Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Greg Berry, reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (S) SUMMARY: Embassy London Iran Watcher (poloff) met February 3 with Jaime Turner, Deputy Head of Multi-lateral Affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Iran Group to discuss ways to condemn publicly the Iranian regime’s blocking of western satellite channels and how to circumvent it. Turner informed poloff that the European Parliament (EP) would soon be debating a resolution condemning the IRIG’s actions against BBC Persian, Voice of America and Deutsche Welle broadcasts. HMG requested that the USG join with the UK and France (home of Eutelsat, owner of the Hotbird satellite) at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to lodge an official complaint against the IRIG for jamming commercial broadcasts. HMG also hopes the U.S. will join it in lobbying the French government to convince Eutelsat to drop IRIG broadcasts from the Hotbird satellite. END SUMMARY.

2. (S) Jaime Turner, Deputy Head of Multi-lateral affairs at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Iran Group, briefed poloff on the IRIG’s jamming of western satellite broadcasts, particularly BBC Persian and Voice of America. Turner said Eutelsat, the owner of the Hotbird satellite (the most popular satellite covering the Midde East region) had, after several months of enduring Iranian jamming of its signals, decided to drop BBC Persian from the satellite because of complaints from other commercial broadcasters that their programs were being affected as well. Although Eutelsat has given BBC Persian a slot on another satellite, that satellite does not carry many of the most popular channels and therefore has limited reach.

3. (S) In an informal survey conducted by the British Embassy in Tehran, the UK found that less than 15 percent of people in Tehran have access to either BBC Persian or Voice of America (VOA) television broadcasts. In a few cases, individuals were able to hear the broadcasts, but the pictures were scrambled. In an effort to reach more people inside Iran, BBC Persian has begun streaming all of its magazine programs on the web, but those are only accessible to people who are arguably the best informed because of their ability to circumvent IRIG internet filtering. BBC also has started producing one-minute news summaries that can be distributed via Bluetooth. Radio has been far less affected, with regular access to BBC World Service and VOA still readily available. Eutelsat has lodged a complaint at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) against the Iranian government. The French government (Eutelsat is a French company) also plans to engage on the issue at ITU. According to Turner, the UK has not been particularly active at ITU in the past, and therefore has little influence, but will join the French protest. HMG would appreciate USG engagement as well.

4. (S) While lodging complaints at the ITU has symbolic value, Turner said her government recognizes the body has no enforcement authority. Therefore, HMG is looking at other ways to address the issue. HMG is exploring ways to limit the operations of the IRIB’s Press TV service, which operates a large bureau (over 80 staff) in London. However, UK law sets a very high standard for denying licenses to broadcasters. Licenses can only be denied in cases where national security is threatened, or if granting a license would be contrary to Britain’s obligations under international law. Currently, neither of these standards can be met with respect to Press TV, but if further sanctions are imposed on Iran in the coming months, a case may be able to be made on the second criterion.

5. (S) In the immediate term, HMG plans to lobby the French government to approach Eutelsat and press it to drop IRIB broadcasts from the Hotbird satellite. The IRIB broadcasts several channels from the satellite, both domestically (even most terrestrial TV channels in Iran are dependent on a satellite and repeaters) and internationally, so it is an important source of income for Eutelsat. While it would be unlikely for the company to agree to drop the IRIB broadcasts spontaneously, Turner believes it would be susceptible to an approach by the French government because of the cover it would gain from complying with an official government request. HMG would appreciate USG engagement with the government of France on this issue.
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